One thing about the penetration of blogging into the Real World is the rise of blogs by people who actually Do Stuff For A Living That Most Of Us Blog About - in my case, the rise of the professional counterinsurgency blogs like Kings of War, Abu Muquama, MountainRunner, etc. etc.
I've talked about the change it necessarily brings to amateurs like us when grownups start showing up in the space.
But even though I have mad respect for authors like that - I take them seriously enough that my default position when I disagree with them is to change my mind - every so often they just flat get it wrong.
In this context, Andrew Bacevich has an interesting critique of the "Long War." Bacevich argues that the entire notion, embraced by both the reviled Rumsfeld and the adored Gates, inevitably leads us down an endless imperial path in a Sisyphusian attempt to transform other societies when we should be focusing on renewing our own not-so-shining "city on the hill."
Here they are treading a bit on my own turf - American political theory. And I'll suggest both that Bacevitch is factually wrong ("little talent for changing the way others live"? Japan and Germany, anyone? It's amusing to me that we're both imperialists and totally unsuccessful at actually, you, know, having an imperium...) and deeply misreads the American situation and the American project.
Here's Bacevitch, with my comments:
Back in September 2001, Rumsfeld put it this way: "We have a choice -- either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter." In this context, "they" represent the billion or so Muslims inhabiting the greater Middle East.
When Rumsfeld offered this statement of purpose and President Bush committed the United States to open-ended war, both assumed that U.S. military supremacy was beyond dispute. At the time, most Americans shared that assumption. A conviction that "the troops" were unstoppable invested the idea of transforming the greater Middle East with a superficial plausibility.
Yet by the time Gates spoke last month, the limits of American military power had long since become apparent. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the opening rounds of the generational campaign are now well underway. By historical standards, each qualifies as a fairly small war. In neither case, however, have U.S. forces been able to achieve decisive victory. In both cases, barring drastic changes in U.S. policy, fighting will drag on for years to come.
I'm constantly puzzled by this. Everything I have read about counterinsurgency - and I've read many of the books on the Abu Muquama reading list - suggests that it is, at best, the matter of much of a decade. Yes, the fighting will 'drag on' for years to come, and yes - as always, as in all wars, it is a matter of making sufficient progress before the political will to sustain runs out. Here Bacevitch isn't asking whether it's worth it, or whether victory is a good idea - he's simply saying it's too hard.
In the meantime, what has the Long War achieved? The answer to that question is indisputable: not much. Counting on military might to change the way they live isn't working. If anything, the effort has backfired.
Since 2001, the price of oil per barrel has quadrupled, adversely affecting all but the wealthiest Americans. Efforts to spread democracy have either stalled or succeeded only in enhancing the standing of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The much-hyped Iraqi nuclear threat turned out to be illusory. To sustain the overstretched American imperium, we are accumulating debt at a staggering clip. And with U.S. soldiers shouldering repetitive combat tours, the strength of our army slowly ebbs away.
I don't know; I missed the part where we were fighting for cheap oil anywhere except in the fevered imaginations of the DU crowd. Yes, oil is going up in price - in part because of the raging economic success of China and India, in part because of the manipulations of market-makers, in part because we refuse to sensibly plan an energy policy, in part because we lack a government willing to really lay out the hard choices to the American people. What did he think was going to happen in Arab countries where there has been repression for centuries and where the leading forces of opposition also happen to oppose us. We are accumulating debt to maintain the imperium? That's flatly ridiculous. We are accumulating debt because our population keeps wanting to increase its standard of living beyond what it can afford - in large part to mask the reality many face in the newly flattened world of competition with Korea, India, the Philippines and Vietnam - among others. It's the failure of our leaders to face this - not some fantasy imperium that lives on in the imaginations of the wild colonial boys in academe. yes, we are stretching and straining our army, and yes, we will have to do something about it. But, simply, I'll ask if we have military better able today to face the real challenges of the next decade than we had five years ago. yes, materiel must be replaced, and yes many of the good ones - the Nagls - are leaving. I don't want to underestimate the challenge the next Administration will face in maintaining and refitting our military. But I do think it ridiculous to suggest that it is irretrievably broken.
Meanwhile, the immediate danger to the American way of life comes not from terrorists but from our own adamant refusal to live within our means. American profligacy, not Islamic radicals, triggered the mortgage crisis that underlies our current economic distress.
The mortgage crisis is a symptom, not a cause. To suggest that that relatively typical and minor blip in the financial markets is a nation-threatening crisis is simply hyperventilating. Someone get him a paper bag, please.
Bluntly, the Long War has proved to be a monumental flop. Yet Gates, channeling Rumsfeld, would have us believe that perpetual war constitutes the sole option available to the world's most powerful nation. This represents a profound failure of imagination. It also misreads our own history.
Look, we face not one problem, but many. Some are interrelated in obvious ways, some less so, some in ways we won't understand until far in the future. It's absurdly simplistic to suggest that the conflict with Islamic radicalism is the only issue we face, or that our response to it - regardless of what form it takes - is the root cause of every problem we have.
The truth is that the United States, with rare exceptions, has demonstrated little talent for changing the way others live. We have enjoyed far greater success in making necessary adjustments to our own way of life, preserving and renewing what we value most. Early in the 20th century, Progressives rounded off the rough edges of the Industrial Revolution, deflecting looming threats to social harmony. During the Depression, FDR's New Deal reformed capitalism and thereby saved it. Here lies the real genius of American politics.
No, the real genius of American politics is its ability to absorb, its ability to accommodate, its ability to adapt - all within a core framework of values which, when shared, become the center of the American experience. And I'll suggest that sharing it - not necessarily, or even usefully, at the point of a gun - is the modern American project. I'll refer you to Schaar on this as he channels Lincoln's call for an American civic religion.
Rumsfeld got it exactly backward. Although we do face a choice, it's not the one that he described. The actual choice is this one: We can either persist in our efforts to change the way they live -- in which case the war of no exits will surely lead to bankruptcy and exhaustion. Or we can recognize the folly of generational war and choose instead to put our own house in order: curbing our appetites, paying our bills and ending our self-destructive dependency on foreign oil and foreign credit.
And that will - somehow, miraculously - defuse Islamic radicalism? That's flatly ridiculous.
Salvation does not lie abroad. It's here at home.
Oh, please. Autarky again? that's beyond stupid, and not worth the ink wasted in the LA Times, much less the attention of a smart person like Dr. Irack.